The Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area received an unwelcome ranking In a report released by Statistics Canada on 15 June, as the metropolitan area — out of ten Canadian cities — with the fourth highest number of hate crimes.
The report stated that hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation had all increased in 2008. The highest rate of increase overall was in crimes motivated by sexual orientation.
The report found the number of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation more than doubled and that they were more likely to involve violence than racially and religiously motivated crimes were. Men accounted for 85 percent of the victims.
The increase in hate crimes could be directly related to the increase of hate crimes reported to the police, rather than related to an increase in violence.
Ottawa Police sargeant Monica Christian, an officer with the Hate Crimes Unit, has been in the force for the past 30 years. While she cannot confirm that hates crimes have risen, she does feel that times have changed and that the public may have more confidence in the police.
“I think that even the youth are prepared to report stuff and tell us what is going on, whereas twenty years ago they weren’t,” says Christian. “People are certainly more comfortable being who they are and not being as afraid. So what if you are gay, you’re black, you’re Muslim or whatever, you have every right to make a report to the police and you right to believe that we are going to investigate it, I think that could be more of the attitude as well — and so it should be.”
The report does state, however, that the numbers of hate crimes presented in the report underestimates the true extent of hate crime in Canada — as not all crimes are reported to police. Research has shown that a victim’s decision to report a hate-motivated crime to police may be influenced by various factors that can include, amongst other factors, the accessibility of victim services in the community and the existence of specialized hate crime units.
“I think that probably the most I can tell you is I hope it is because there is perhaps, more confidence in the police,” says Christian. “Perhaps we are getting out into the community and people are just not as wary or they have more confidence that we are actually able to do something — sometimes.”
According to Christian the unit has also worked hard over the last year and a half to reach out to communities and have been making a concerted effort to work with the police liaison to the queer communities.
The liaison meetings are open to the community and have recently been in the news with a conference on queer policing issues and lately under scrutiny for the release of a photo of a man arrested for sexual assault.
“We do discuss stuff frankly at it and anybody is able to bring anything to the table,” says Christian.